With no warning, House Republicans killed the Office of Congressional Ethics, in an ambush maneuver that wasn’t announced until it was over, which is basically how you deal with something you know the entire public would object to.
The move to effectively kill the Office of Congressional Ethics was not made public until late Monday, when Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that the House Republican Conference had approved the change. There was no advance notice or debate on the measure.
The surprising vote came on the eve of the start of a new session of Congress, where emboldened Republicans are ready to push an ambitious agenda on everything from health care to infrastructure, issues that will be the subject of intense lobbying from corporate interests. The House Republicans’ move would take away both power and independence from an investigative body, and give lawmakers more control over internal inquiries.
And in its place?
Republicans would create a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review that would report to the House Ethics Committee, which has been accused of ignoring credible allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers.
Goodlatte claimed that the amendment “would strengthen the mission of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), improve due process rights for those subject to an investigation, and ensure that complaints made by the public have a strong venue for review,” which is not true.
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, Chair and Vice Chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a statement:
“Undermining the independence of the House’s Office of Congressional Ethics would create a serious risk to members of Congress, who rely on OCE for fair, nonpartisan investigations, and to the American people, who expect their representatives to meet their legal and ethical obligations. As CREW and others noted in a bipartisan letter a few weeks ago, OCE is one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives, and it has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug. If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining OCE, it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated.”
Goodlatte’s press release and summary of the amendment:
Goodlatte: “The amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics. It also improves upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify. The OCE has a serious and important role in the House, and this amendment does nothing to impede their work.”
Goodlatte Amendment to H. Res. 5
Concerning the Office of Congressional Ethics
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) was created by the Democrat majority and Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 in response to several ethical cases by Members which eventually led to federal jail time for each. These included bribery from Reps. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), William Jefferson (D-La.), and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).
The intent of OCE was to supplement the existing House Ethics Committee and create a separate body eligible to accept complaints from the general public, something that Ethics does not allow. The last eight years have provided a significant body of results which allow for a thorough review of their governing structure.
The Goodlatte amendment builds upon and strengthens the existing OCE by maintaining its primary area of focus – accepting and reviewing constituent complaints – while improving upon due process rights for individuals under investigation, as well as witnesses called to testify.
Feedback from Members and staff having gone through review by the OCE has been that those under investigation need increased protection of their due process rights, greater access to basic evidentiary standards, and a process that does not discriminate against them for invoking those rights. The amendment seeks to strengthen each of these needs while maintaining the basic core of OCE’s functions.
The Amendment renames the “Office of Congressional Ethics” the “Office of Congressional Complaint Review,” to avoid confusion with the House Ethics Committee, and places the Office under the oversight of the Committee on Ethics. Additionally, because of the sensitive and confidential nature of the investigations, the amendment provides protections against any disclosures to the public or other government entities, and requires that any matter that may involve a violation of criminal law must be referred to the Committee on Ethics for potential referral to law enforcement agencies after an affirmative vote by the Members.
The amendment further provides greater certainty as to the commencement and termination of any review, including timely notice to the subject and Committee on Ethics. Further strengthening rights, the amendment bars the consideration of anonymous complaints and requires rules changes to better safeguard the exercise of due process rights of both subject and witness.
Finally, the amendment limits the jurisdiction of the Office to the last three Congresses to conform to the statute of limitations for the Committee on Ethics.